Scotland!

Where do I even begin? I have had four of the most amazing days of my life, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to relate them to you in the full detail required… It was just too wonderful!

To begin with, it was raining/sprinkling/overcast… For all four days. I know, you would think being cold and wet would effectively dampen my spirits (ha, ha). It didn’t! We left in the early hours of the morning from an overcast London, taking a four-hour long train ride out of King’s Cross directly to Edinburgh. Yes, I took the touristy Platform 9 3/4 photo, but I was a lot more excited by the scenery on the way there. We passed through some beautiful areas of both England and Scotland, and occasionally were able to see the sea and the shoreline! The only thing about that journey which was a little odd was a stag party at the back of our train car. One of them, presumably the stag, passed through the car asking people to sign his (plastic!) penis. We all got a kick out of that, and eventually, we made it to Edinburgh.

Our tour guide (aka “our fearless leader”) Mike met us outside the train station and took us to the hostel to drop off our stuff. After that, he led us on a brief tour of the area, particularly what is known as the “Old City.” If it gives you any hints about how beautiful it is, the “New City” was built in the 1700′s. Yeah, it’s an old city, and that’s why it absolutely captured my heart! Like, I’m seriously, seriously considering moving to Scotland based off this trip. I’ll talk more about that later though. After our little tour of the “Old City”, a few of us went off to do what any good tourist would do: buy souvenirs and eat some haggis. After doing those necessary things, we visited Greyfriar’s Cemetery where we spent a good couple hours wandering through the gravestones. That site is actually where J.K. Rowling got a lot of the names for her characters in Harry Potter, so it was cool, as a writer, to see that physical influence on a story. After taking way too many photos, we wandered up to a hill with an incomplete replica of the Parthenon. It turns out they had run out of money in the middle of the project, so they stopped midway, and it’s been like that ever since. By the time we left, the beautiful panoramic view of the city was going dark (i.e. it was around 10 PM or so), so we headed back to the hostel and pretty much went to bed immediately after.

The next day, which was a very early and rainy day, we made our way to the Highlands! We passed a lot of pretty, pretty things along the way, and the stops along the way were really cool! Our first stop was at the Pass of Killiecrankie, where a great battle took place. Soldier’s Leap is the most notable part of the area, where a fleeing man jumped successfully from one cliff-face at the side of the river to the other over. Today, thrill seekers jump off of it and into the water, and tourists like us watch! The second stop was St. Andrews, which, if you know Chariot’s of Fire, was where the classic running on the beach in slow mo to music scene was filmed. Google “Chariot’s of Fire song” and you should come up with it. While there we visited the ruins of a fort, a cathedral, a graveyard, and a couple little shops for souvenirs and food. After that, we stopped by a little building in the middle of the woods where several Scottish writers came to think and write. It was an absolutely beautiful area, and it was really amazing because there was a secret door which lead to a room with the most gorgeous view of a waterfall. If I could live there, I absolutely would! We all made it back to the bus and finally got to Inverness, which is right at the bottom edge of Loch Ness. A couple friends and I went out for some food, stopping to call for Nessie and pick up souvenirs on the way. After that, we hung out in the bar for most of the night, my friends trying whisky while I drank water awkwardly. We had a really cool encounter with the bar tender and a couple of his friends after they closed the bar. They taught us a couple Scottish songs, which we sang along with loudly until 3 in the morning, when we finally had to turn in.

About four hours later, the next day began, and it began with a very interesting look into the Highland traditions, i.e. traditional kilts, weapons, etc. That included watching someone strip to his skivvies to put on a kilt, which I was kind enough not to take pictures of. It was really fascinating to get that glimpse into the Highland culture, and I have to say, some of those weapons were impressive. My friend got “killed” by a hooked and bladed weapon in a gruesome way that really does not need repeating! After that, we did a lot of driving, stopping a couple times along the way. The first stop was a little port town with the ruins of an old fort and a very cool sea-glass beach. I was brave enough to venture onto a small island where several birds were eating before having to get back on the bus. After that, we made our way to a national park, where we stopped at a mountain range called the Three Sisters. They were absolute beauties, and I felt really small next to them; sure, I’ve passed through the Rockies before, but the parts I pass through did not make me feel nearly so dwarfed! We drove through the national park, where we experienced the only patch of blue sky from the whole four days. It was perfectly timed, and the view was gorgeous. We made a quick stop just outside of the national park to see hairy coos, which are long-haired cows with large horns. After, we passed the castle they used to film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which I got two very blurry pictures of by luck! We stopped by the William Wallace Monument, which was on a very steep hill made slick with mud by the rain. It took us a little bit longer after that to return to Edinburgh where a few of us got food at an American diner for laughs. Finally, after spending a little bit hanging out in the bar, it was time for bed.

Today was our last day in Scotland, and it started with a visit to Edinburgh Castle, where we saw the Scottish Crown Jewels (obviously out of use now), war memorials, information about soliders, and other very interesting historical things. As is appropriate in Great Britain, my friend and I had tea at the castle before heading off for a couple more souvenir stops. By the time we finished, it was time to head onto the train and back to London, where it was, surprise, not raining!

Overall, I had an amazing, life-changing journey in Scotland, and I’ll be all too happy to repeat it! I have a week and a half extra time after the program is over to play around Europe, and I think I’ll cut my time short in Ireland and go back to Edinburgh… Luckily, I haven’t planned anything yet, so I’m still free! I think I’ll look into moving to Scotland once I’m back in the states, but it’ll still be two years until I’d make that particular move. I’m really beat, and after a very, very lengthy blog entry about it, I have to say good night and good bye to the lovely Scotland. So, good night!